CLEVELAND -- Kevin Love will step back into Target Center as an opposing player for the first time on Saturday to face the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the thing is, he's been there before.
As a freshman at UCLA back in 2008, the Oregon native went up to Eugene, Oregon, with the Bruins to face the Ducks, and this wasn't just fans booing and making signs poking fun at him. This was death threats. This was homophobic chants. This was objects being hurled at Love's family.
"It was bad," Love told ESPN.com after scoring a game-high 23 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 101-90 win over Sacramento on Friday. "It was really bad. Nothing could rival that."
Now 26 years old with three All-Star appearances under his belt, an Olympic gold medal to his credit, and more than $40 million banked in NBA salary alone, he's a long way from that hostile gym in Oregon.
But that's not the type of thing you easily forget.
"I'll tell you why because my grandma, who passed away last year -- she was the easiest, nicest woman in the entire world, and my family and I had to explain it to her," Love said. "Like, what the deal was."
And how do you do that? How do you explain to a reasonable person the lengths that some folks will go to abuse the platform of sports fanaticism and turn it into something so negative, something so cruel.
"She was my biggest fan," Love continued. "But people were throwing stuff at my family and she didn't understand it. She was moved to tears about it.
It's a win Love is still proud of despite the pro career he's gone on to carve out. He had 26 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 18 rebounds that day, and UCLA won 80-75.
He still remembers the names that comprised Oregon's team.
"They had [coach] Ernie Kent and guys that were very, very good college players -- Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor, Tajuan Porter, Malik Hairston," Love rattled off. "They had a number of good players on that team."
And he still remembers the faces in the stands.
"This is when Oregon basketball was like at its peak and that's a big part of the reason why there was a lot of the -- whatever you want to call it -- the people who hated me or disliked me," Love explained. "Even people who went to my high school. I remember looking in the crowd and thinking, 'Hey, I know you. I know you. I know you.' It was an eye-opening experience."
Sure, Love can feel a little bit better about his Minnesota return after breaking a 6-for-26 slump in his past two games with an efficient 9-for-17 game on Friday while leading the Cavs in scoring for the first time since LeBron James returned to the lineup following a two-week absence. But what really readied him was that game in Eugene. The experienced steeled him. And it prepared him for a trip to Minnesota some six years later that, in retrospect, can't nearly be as traumatic as what he's already been through.
"I'm thinking of Malcom Gladwell now: It's always worse when you're in it," Love said, paraphrasing a theme from "David and Goliath," Gladwell's recent book. "And then you look back and you think, 'OK, that's not so bad.' That's kind of how I think we look at most things. And from where I am mentally from where I was when I was 18-19 years old at the time, I've come a long way."
It helps that Love is in a great place right now. Minnesota fans can call him a coward for wanting to play with two other superstars in James and Kyrie Irving; he can just smile and think about how Cleveland's current nine-game win streak eclipses the total amount of wins the 8-38 Wolves have all season. They can bark at him about missing the All-Star Game; he can visualize the trip he has planned to visit family on the West Coast during the break. They can rip him for his drop in stats; he can know that he's right where he needs to be when he has James nearing triple-doubles nightly and Irving capable of exploding for 55 points in a game. Heck, they already tried to troll him with a video mocking his return, and he already shrugged that off in high-road fashion.
"I think if you look at the present, and there's no time like that, I think it's going phenomenal," Love said. "Obviously there have been ups and downs. Some of the adjustments have been tough, including my own, but I think as a team we're still finding a way, I'm still finding a way."
And he’s finding that in James, he has someone who certainly can relate to what he's about to go through, after James lived through one of the most toxic homecomings in sports history when he came to Cleveland on Dec. 2, 2010 for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.
"I probably can help him more than anybody," James said. "Obviously it won't be the same as my experience, but I can give him some insight. I think the most important thing is he has to lean on us. That's what I did. I leaned on my teammates more than anything."
Love said reflecting on James' experience has already helped him.
"When LeBron came back here for the first time, I don't think anything can be as kind of stunning as that," Love said. "I can only imagine what the sound was like when his name was announced. So, I think it gave me perspective."
James, in four short years, turned the city of Cleveland back into his home and it welcomed him with open arms. A turnaround so dramatic may never be in store for Love, but James says he knows they still care about his teammate in Minnesota.
"When you go on the road and you're returning to the place where they once loved you ... They still love you, I know that, you only get booed because they love you," James said. "We will be there to pick him up and just play basketball. That's what I did. I just played basketball. My teammates allowed me to do that. My teammates helped me through it and it's 48 minutes, it's a couple hours, and then you can move on."
And basketball has been great to Love, all things considered.
"The thing I don't want to do is make it about myself," Love said. "I know there is going to be a lot of hoopla and talk about it, but the best thing we can do is keep playing winning basketball."
The Heat seemed to be in total control at home, leading 60-51 near the end of the third quarter, thanks to a huge effort from Hassan Whiteside.
But the Mavericks won going away with one amazing push.
The Mavericks got hot, both with their jump shooting and in the paint. They outscored the Heat 42-12 over the final 15 minutes and 10 seconds.
The Mavericks scored 28 points in the second half on catch-and-shoot jump shots, including 8-of-15 on 3-pointers. The Heat scored 27 points total in the second half.
The game turned when Miami subbed Whiteside out with 3:10 left in the third quarter. The Mavericks scored the next 21 points and the Heat never recovered, even after bringing Whiteside back in.
The Heat were 9-of-37 from the field for the game with Whiteside on the bench. They outrebounded the Mavericks by 10 with Whiteside on the court, but were outrebounded by seven with him on the bench.
The Mavericks' run began with a 3-pointer by Charlie Villanueva, who finished with a season-high 20 points and was plus-29 off the bench after playing much of the dominant fourth quarter.
Villanueva was 1-of-7 from the field in his past three games and was shooting 36 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3-point range in his previous 10 games.
Whiteside's amazing game
In defeat, Whiteside still had a pretty amazing game. His 24 rebounds were the most by a Heat player since Kevin Willis had 24 for Miami in December 1994.
Whiteside had more first-quarter rebounds (14) than the Mavericks had points (13).
The story of Whiteside's abbreviated season (Friday marked his 20th game) has been one of efficiency. He entered the day averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds per 36 minutes and ranked sixth in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating. The two players sandwiching him in the rankings? Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
The win was the 600th for Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, and snapped a four-game losing streak. Dallas was down by 16 in the third quarter, down nine with about 3 minutes to go in the third and then turned the game completely around.
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Chandler Parsons and the Mavericks visit Chris Bosh and the Heat tonight (8 ET, ESPN).
1. The Mavericks have the top offense in the league, but a below average defense. The defense plays its best when actively creating turnovers. When Mavericks opponents are turning it over on more than 12 percent of their possessions, the Mavs give up 101 points per 100 possessions. Yet when opponents turn it over less than that, the Mavs give up 106 point per 100 possessions.
2. Chandler Parsons' average assist rate has dropped this season from 17 percent to 10 percent, but when he is above that 10 percent mark, the Mavericks average 113 points per 100 possessions. When Parsons falls below 10 percent, they average 109 points per 100 possessions.
3. Chris Bosh's game has changed and evolved over time, but while he teamed with LeBron, his skilled passing was not needed. In his last four seasons with the Raptors, Bosh had an average assist percentage of 12 percent. While playing with LeBron, his AST% fell to eight percent, but this season it has jumped right back up to 12 percent.
4. Miami has to keep Dallas off the foul line. When Miami allows opponents a Free Throw Attempt Rate above 0.29, then they give up 108 points per 100 possessions, but when they keep their opponents' FTAr below 0.29 then they give up 100 points per 100 possessions.
The league announced Thursday night that Teague is one of three members of the 38-8 Atlanta Hawks to make the Eastern Conference squad alongside teammates Al Horford and Paul Millsap. It's the first trio of Hawks All-Stars since John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield in 1980.
"We love for our players to have success and for our players to be appreciated," said Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer, who will coach the East. "Yeah, there's a sense of pride. They work really hard. They do a lot of things we appreciate. If other people are appreciating them, that's a good thing."
After sitting out Wednesday's practice, Wade spoke to reporters and closed the session by telling them, "I won't be seeing you for a little while."
The Heat have listed him as day-to-day, but teammate Chris Bosh hinted that Wade's absence may last weeks.
"It really sucks sometimes, but what can you do?" Bosh said of Wade's latest injury. "We haven't had our whole team. I just want to play with our whole team, just once. But it's not going to be for [Friday], maybe not for the next couple weeks, but there's nothing we can do about that."
Wade injured his right hamstring in Tuesday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Wade said he tweaked it on a play where he was defending a dunk by Bucks guard Brandon Knight. He said he tried to play through it for a few plays.
"And then it just went," Wade said of his right hamstring.
Wade missed two games earlier this season with a right hamstring injury and missed another seven games with a strained left hamstring.
"This is more in the belly of the hamstring so this is a little tougher one," Wade said, comparing this current injury with his previous hamstring issues.